Abuja — A scheme to give one million low-cost laptops to Nigerian schoolchildren has stalled because some policymakers say the money would be better spent on other educational projects, while government officials and private computer companies have actively worked to undermine the project, its manager has said.
"The programme has had to face a series of difficulties," said Tomi Davies, manager of a US-based organisation, One Laptop per Child, which has designed a cheap laptop, known as the XO. "It has had a lot of misinformation and negative press," he said.
The laptop is designed to withstand harsh conditions such as rain and dust. It has a screen that can be read under intense sunlight. Its battery lasts for 12 hours and can be recharged with the use of a solar panel or a pull cord.
The laptop went on sale for around $100, under a marketing strategy of selling large numbers "directly to ministries of education, which can distribute them like textbooks," according to a statement by the organisation.
In 2006 Nigeria's government ordered one million XO laptops, becoming the first in the world to make such a large order, but since then Nigeria has had an election and the new government in power says it is reassessing the deal.
Nigeria's new education minister, Igwe Aja_Nawachuku, told the BBC recently that he found the project questionable given the absence of basic equipment in many Nigerian schools.
"What is the sense of introducing one laptop per child when they don't have seats to sit down and learn, when they don't have uniforms to go to school in, when they don't have facilities?"
So far only 300 laptops have been delivered to children at one school in Galadima, a village in the outskirts of the capital Abuja.
Teachers there said that computers have had a positive impact on the students. "Nice classrooms are important _ and indeed the [school] environment here is not the best _ but what is more important is the knowledge that we can bring to children," one teacher, Olugbile Oluyinka, said.
Students at Galadima were also enamoured. "I love my laptop," said Grace Ogwo, a. Another student, Cythia Ounoha, proudly showed a design for her dream house which she made on the computer.
For Davies, the One Laptop per Child's project manager, computers are the key to transforming developing countries like Nigeria. "The world is not going to wait for Nigeria. Screen_based interaction is going to be a prerequisite for literacy in the future and if we don't start now there'll be a digital gulf," he said.